A tug of war between a first-person account of Vietnam and an espionage thriller; inconsistent and oddly structured but...

Phoenix Mistress

In Wadleigh’s historical thriller, a civilian intelligence analyst in Vietnam is horrified when his covert CIA gig leads him to suspect unlawful arrests and torture of anti-war protestors.

A computer scientist is looking for adventure when he takes a job at a company under contract with the U.S. Army in 1969 Saigon. He’s initially revising a computer program that evaluates the government’s progress in the Vietnam War. But the CIA sends him into the field with the Phoenix program, which is designed to identify members of the Viet Cong Infrastructure who are behind terrorist incidents and assassinations. The analyst, however, has misgivings about his new employers. It seems they’ve been arresting protesting Vietnamese university students and possibly murdering others. His decision to send a memo in objection to the CIA’s program may put him in just as much danger as the protestors. Though the author stresses that his unnamed protagonist is fictional, much of the book reads like a memoir. Sections are told through the perspective of a cold observer, quoting everything from brochures to a training manual and listing local foods. The main character makes an impression; he’s incessantly sweating from the blistering heat, caught in downpours during the rainy season, and hearing Viet Cong explosives. The book’s latter half becomes a series of dated short scenes resembling journal entries. These intimate anecdotes, including a description of a lengthy and turbulent relationship with the narrator’s co-worker Ann, ultimately subsume the novel. Elements of the thriller, which involve the mysterious titular character and the protagonist’s chance to save students who’ve been jailed, are sidelined. But the potentially nefarious Phoenix program remains a threat, even if only implied by a newspaper article referencing a GI shooting and killing a student. And the analyst feasibly in the CIA’s cross hairs adds a dash of suspense until the unforgettable and appropriately unsettling ending.

A tug of war between a first-person account of Vietnam and an espionage thriller; inconsistent and oddly structured but well-written and undeniably riveting.

Pub Date: April 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-6426-8

Page Count: 208

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2015

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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